Sunday, September 23, 2007

150th Anniversary of the Fulton Street Revival

One hundred fifty years ago today, a prayer meeting started in New York City which was a catalyst for a worldwide revival. A lay missionary named Jeremiah Lanphier started a one hour prayer meeting in a room at the Old Dutch Reformed Church in lower Manhattan. He designed the time for the prayer meeting to coincide with lunch time for the workers in the area. During that first hour-long meeting, Lanphier was the only one in attendance. However, by 1pm, there were six others who joined.
The attendance at the weekly meeting grew rapidly. Within months, there were similar prayer meetings all over New York City. Within six months, prayer meetings were being held all over the United States in such cities as Philadelphia and Detroit. The newspapers of the the time noted these meetings. A brief mention of the revival in Detroit can be found in the March 3, 1858 edition of the Detroit Daily Free Press. The following is a copy of the text of that day’s article:

RELIGIOUS REVIVALS – There is an interesting religious revival at the Woodward Avenue M.E. [Methodist Episcopal] Church of which Rev. Mr. Blades is pastor – Meetings are held every evening at 7 o’clock. About fifty persons have been added to the church within the past four weeks, more than three fourths of whom are heads of families.

There is also a revival at the First Presbyterian Church (Rev. Dr. Duffield’s.) Prayer meetings are held morning and evening.

As the interest in the revival, church buildings were no longer the only sites of the prayer meetings. The New York Times of March 20, 1858 reported:

Churches are crowded; bank-directors rooms become oratories; school houses are turned into chapels.

Places associated with worldliness became sites of prayer. One example was Burton’s Theatre in New York. The Times’ account stated:

Instead of noisy laughter, excited by play-actors, in low comedy and farce, those present listen quietly and seriously to earnest words from earnest men on the most solemn and earnest of themes.
Over the next few years, the revival spread through the United States, Canada, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England, Australia, South Africa and other countries. In 1859, Dr. B. Evans delivered a lecture in Scarborough, England, entitled ‘The American Revivals’. It recounted the details of the revival in the United States. Evans observed:

The work originated with, and has been sustained by, prayer. This is its universal characteristic; and the fact admits of no doubt.

Evans asked his audience to ponder several questions. First, he asked: ‘Do we need such a revival, such manifest and manifold tokens of the power of the Divine Spirit?’ His implicit answer was ‘yes.’ He pointed to opportunities to spread the Gospel in previously closed lands such as China, Japan and the ‘wilds of Africa.’ Yet, English society had devolved into ignorance and indifference. Evans painfully noted:

Upon millions in this land of ours religious truth has exerted no saving influence. …Glance for a moment at the majority in our congregations, gradually ripening for perdition under the ministry of the Word, perishing amidst the atmosphere of prayer, and dying within sight of the fountain of healing and eternal life!
Evans further asked: ‘If a revival is needed, the second question I would ask is not less vital and thrilling in its interest—can we have one?’ He answered his question with another: ‘Why not?’ He reminded his hearers that God is not the God of America only. His shower of revival blessings was not exhausted upon America and Canada.

His third and final question: ‘Will you seek one [revival]?’ He challenged his audience to adopt the thinking that ‘Holier and higher motives must prompt our actions, and mould our character.’

Perhaps the main and telling feature of the spread of the prayer revival was that when Christians heard about the revival in other places, they did not treat the news as merely some point of quaint interest. They desired the same blessing of revival in prayer for their land. As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Fulton Street Revival and the triggering of a worldwide revival in the English-speaking world, I pray that we who read this account will be moved to a holy desire to see such revival visited upon our nations in the early 21st century.

If you wish to read more about the prayer revivals of 1857, may I suggest that you read the article Prayer Revivals and the Third Great Awakening in the Evangelical Review of Theology (Volume 31, No. 1 - January 2007)

The inset picture is a photograph of Jeremiah Lanphier, seated in the prayer room at the Old Dutch Reformed Church in New York City.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Flashing or Occulting Prayer Life?

During the summer, we had the chance to spend some time at my in-laws cottage in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. From their deck which faces toward the water (a bay in the Les Chenaux Islands), you can see a marker buoy straight-away in the distance. At night, you can see the buoy's location by its' flashing light.

I happened to find out a little more about marker buoys this summer. Turns out that there are basically two different types of buoys which display a light at night. One type is the kind in front of my in-laws' place. It is a buoy that displays a light very briefly and then remains dark otherwise (i.e. 1 second of light, 5 seconds of darkness).

This is a flashing buoy. The other kind is an occulting buoy. No, this doesn't have anything to do with the occult (i.e. sorcery, etc). It is based on the fact that occulting means "darkening". That type of buoy will remain lit with brief moments of the light going dark (i.e. 5 seconds of light; 1 second of darkness).

The reason that I bring this up is that this type of arrangement for the lighting of a buoy reminds me of the type of prayer lives we can display before God. Do we stay "dark" most of the time with a little bit of a brilliant prayer life? Or is our life manifest by ongoing prayer with few times that we "go dark"? I am learning that our prayer lives don't need to be confined to only specific times in the day. We need to cultivate an attitude of prayer in which we are more and more sensing the presence of God and able to communicate to Him in pray even beyond our usual times with him. My pastor raised a good example of this several years ago. He mentioned that while driving through a very rundown section of the Detroit area, my pastor instantly "lit up' in prayer to ask God what His thoughts were concerning the human condition in this part of town.

Does our light in prayer continue to shine or is God waiting for it to briefly light up in the darkness?